I had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life yesterday! I became a cowgirl!

I have been in Dahab for a week now, chilling out, diving, exploring. But I decided on a whim that I would like to go horse-riding. Dahab is surrounded by craggy red mountains, and juxtaposed with the Red Sea’s blueness, it makes for breathtaking scenery. I felt very certain that riding a horse through it all would be splendid. So very spontaneously for me, I walked into a safari shop, booked myself in, and the next day turned up ready to ride.

I was to be the only person on this tour. It was me and Paibers, the half-Turkish, half-Egyptian accountant who teaches horse-riding for fun. He allocated me a seemingly docile white horse called Jasmine, and off we ambled out to the desert. Paibers explained to me the philosophy of horse-riding, that its all about the unspoken relationship I build with the horse, how she cares me for, and will take care of me, and I have to show I care for it, but that I am in control too. He taught me the basics of posture and grip, and I felt relatively confident. I had ridden in the past, but very very sporadically and never particularly elegantly. I was determined to improve. But I was still stuck in the beginners trap of holding onto the saddle with my spare hand, in case I lost balance. Paibers persisted in teaching me to let go, and eventually he succeeded.

Within an hour, I had mastered the basics, and suddenly found my balance. I discovered its like riding a bike – it seems ludicrous that you could stay upright on such a precarious contraption, but once you find that balance, its inbuilt. Well, riding was similar to me. Once I had talked myself into overcoming my fear of falling, and once I had learnt how to hold on tight with my thighs, the balance came naturally. Paibers gave me a stick, not to hit darling Jasmine with, but to dangle in her line of sight when I wanted to go faster. Soon, I was galloping wildly through canyons, with my hands up in the air, grinning madly, feeling adrenaline and excitement pulse through me.

It was without a doubt the highlight of my entire holiday so far. Ever since I was a little girl I loved fantasy novels and movies, with the knights on horse-back, and the rebellious damsel galloping alongside, regally yet passionately. That morning, I lived my fantasy. To be galloping so incredibly fast, with no one else around, no other noise but Jasmine’s hooves, towering red cliffs on either side of me, discovering hidden oases and rocky valleys. There were moments when I was fixated on the path before me, full of beauty and natural wildness, feeling so free and unburdened and raw, it was unspeakably moving.

I rode for four hours, some of it inland among mountains, some of it on the beach. At one stage, while we were walking slowly to give the horses a break, a group of quad-bikes zoomed past us. I felt them grinning to themselves at my apparent tame pace, so I suggested to Paibers we show these kids what speed really was… and off we galloped. We overtook them all. It was fabulous.

Anyway, I was very sore after all that riding as you can imagine. So what do normal people do after such strenuous thigh and bum exercise (particularly after not having done it for so long)? Rest, sleep, etc?? What did I do? I booked myself to climb Mount Sinai, which began at 1am that night. With my body aching, I suddenly find myself climbing Africa’s third highest mountain, using those very same muscles which were so ripped and torn. It was excruciating. The first 2 hours weren’t too bad, it was quite a novelty to climb in pitch blackness with torches. But the last hour consisted of steep rocky stairs, and I laboured. I made it though, and quickly nestled into my sleeping bag for a few hours sleep in time to wake up and watch the sunrise.

I awoke at 6am to a completely overcast sky. Let me put this in perspective: it never rains in Egypt. It rained. So no sunrise, but nevertheless, beautiful scenery. A sweet group of Chinese Christians held a little mass on the summit, and I then remembered the significance of this peak. Did I feel godly though? I have to say, not so much. I was exhausted and sore, and had a descent to tackle on 90 minutes of bad sleep.

I am now waddling like a penguin, because my body cannot do anything else. I am desperately nervous about my plan to climb Kilimanjaro – its 5 times the size of Sinai. But I am stubborn and determined, so I’ll do it.

Anyway, this is my last day in Egypt. Tomorrow I fly to Africa, where I suspect internet access not so common. So it may be a while before I correspond again. Wish me luck, particularly on my birthday morning of January 25th, as it will be the day I (hopefully) reach the peak of Kilimanjaro. But I’m now officially a cowgirl – I’ll be fine!